Giant 180-ton robot trucks are mining gold

As global demand soars, extractive industries are embracing automation.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

A mining outfit in Australia is making a big bet on big robots. Following a recent proof of concept at a gold mine, mining contractor MACA will retrofit a fleet of 100 very large vehicles to create one of the largest autonomous heavy equipment fleets in the world.

This is a pretty significant rollout and a proverbial canary in the gold mine for the sector's broader automation ambitions. With the world hungrier than ever for precious and rare earth metals, technology is increasingly called on to make mining operations more efficient and cost-effective while unlocking increasingly scarce resources.

Powering the new rollout is autonomous heavy equipment company SafeAI and its Australian partner, Position Partners. This new generation of autonomous heavy vehicle technology is a major upgrade from the first generation retrofits, which had limited onboard processing power and took a long time to see ROI in most cases. Early versions of autonomous vehicle technology in the sector also operated with closed legacy systems, preventing mixed fleets from communicating. Industries like mining have had this tech for 20 years now, but the lack of accessibility means it hasn't really taken off yet.

Autonomy 2.0 is changing that. AI-powered and armed with multimodal sensors (lidar, radar, camera), these new systems have significant onboard processing power to reduce network reliance and enable fast decisions. It's also open, interoperable, and vehicle-agnostic -- meaning tech like SafeAI's retrofit autonomy can be applied to any vehicle, at pretty much any age from any manufacturer.

"This technology is a game changer for our business, our customers and our industry," explains Shane Clark, MACA's General Manager of Estimating and Technical Services. "SafeAI's versatile, scalable solution is unmatched in our industry right now, and has profound implications for site safety, efficiency and cost-effectiveness. We expect to see quick takeup from our customers as they begin to see the tremendous impact of this technology." 

This means much greater scalability -- like this 100 truck agreement -- to accelerate the rollout of autonomous equipment for industries that are ready. One big benefit of autonomy is that it creates far safer working conditions for on-site workers.

Of course, it also means that extractive industries like mining are becoming increasingly efficient. As personal computing and battery technologies increasingly drive demand for mined resources, automation technologies are propelling those industries to ever greater capabilities, a cycle that warrants increasing vigilance.

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